UIP officials suggested that she move to another apartment during the renovation, but she feared if she left she would never get back in. Inside, there are unplugged holes, peeling paint and a heavily water-damaged wall in the bedroom where her grandchildren normally stay.
UIP contractors have been doing work on the rest of the basement, and she is no longer allowed to use the easiest route from her apartment to the laundry room. Instead, Hughes has to drag her laundry up a set of stairs. (There are 34 steps in all. She counted.) At one point, management had one of her neighbors arrested for unlawful entry for ignoring the new restrictions. The charges were later thrown out.
Hughes’s neighbor in the basement, Cheryl Scott, temporarily moved to another unit on the first floor after her apartment was flooded. Mold and mildew developed in her bedroom, she said, forcing her to sleep on her living room couch for three months. The unit where she is now is not renovated, either. Scott came home one day a few months ago to find construction debris coming from a hole in her ceiling, covering her bed. Earlier this year, she was putting groceries away in her kitchen when the cabinets came off the wall.
By contrast, the renovated units sport granite countertops, restored wood floors and stainless steel appliances. They come with upscale price tags, too. A 400-square-foot studio can cost as much as $1,400 a month. One-bedrooms go for more than $1,800. Most of the holdovers pay closer to $900 for a one-bedroom.
For the location and the space, it is a rate that would be hard to match. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that between 2000 and 2010, the city lost 50 percent of its low-cost rental housing. The rate of loss has accelerated since 2008, when the credit crunch began to slow condo conversions.
Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services, which helps low-income District residents find housing, said they try to encourage low-income residents not to accept buyouts because the money isn’t likely to go as far as they might expect. Many don’t realize how hard it has become to find low-cost housing.
The old residents of New Hampshire and Quincy are determined to stay. They have been vocal with their complaints about the renovation work, calling in city inspectors and elected officials.
In August, the Department of the Environment shut down construction for four weeks at the Quincy for lead abatement problems. After UIP tested all of the units, Schwat said, and did not find dangerous levels of lead, city inspectors allowed the renovations to go forward. The two buildings do not have any outstanding building code violations, according to District records.